GATA6 is a crucial regulator of Shh in the limb bud

PLoS Genet. 2014 Jan;10(1):e1004072. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1004072. Epub 2014 Jan 9.


In the limb bud, patterning along the anterior-posterior (A-P) axis is controlled by Sonic Hedgehog (Shh), a signaling molecule secreted by the "Zone of Polarizing Activity", an organizer tissue located in the posterior margin of the limb bud. We have found that the transcription factors GATA4 and GATA6, which are key regulators of cell identity, are expressed in an anterior to posterior gradient in the early limb bud, raising the possibility that GATA transcription factors may play an additional role in patterning this tissue. While both GATA4 and GATA6 are expressed in an A-P gradient in the forelimb buds, the hindlimb buds principally express GATA6 in an A-P gradient. Thus, to specifically examine the role of GATA6 in limb patterning we generated Prx1-Cre; GATA6(fl/fl) mice, which conditionally delete GATA6 from their developing limb buds. We found that these animals display ectopic expression of both Shh and its transcriptional targets specifically in the anterior mesenchyme of the hindlimb buds. Loss of GATA6 in the developing limbs results in the formation of preaxial polydactyly in the hindlimbs. Conversely, forced expression of GATA6 throughout the limb bud represses expression of Shh and results in hypomorphic limbs. We have found that GATA6 can bind to chromatin (isolated from limb buds) encoding either Shh or Gli1 regulatory elements that drive expression of these genes in this tissue, and demonstrated that GATA6 works synergistically with FOG co-factors to repress expression of luciferase reporters driven by these sequences. Most significantly, we have found that conditional loss of Shh in limb buds lacking GATA6 prevents development of hindlimb polydactyly in these compound mutant embryos, indicating that GATA6 expression in the anterior region of the limb bud blocks hindlimb polydactyly by repressing ectopic expression of Shh.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Patterning / genetics*
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Embryonic Development
  • Forelimb / growth & development
  • Forelimb / metabolism
  • GATA4 Transcription Factor / biosynthesis
  • GATA4 Transcription Factor / genetics
  • GATA4 Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • GATA6 Transcription Factor / biosynthesis*
  • GATA6 Transcription Factor / genetics
  • GATA6 Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Hedgehog Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Hedgehog Proteins / genetics
  • Hedgehog Proteins / metabolism*
  • Hindlimb / growth & development
  • Hindlimb / metabolism
  • Limb Buds / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Polydactyly / etiology
  • Polydactyly / genetics*
  • Polydactyly / pathology
  • Signal Transduction / genetics


  • GATA4 Transcription Factor
  • GATA6 Transcription Factor
  • Gata4 protein, mouse
  • Gata6 protein, mouse
  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • Shh protein, mouse